We took a very interesting half day's tour around the medina with Salim, an official tour guide, who we had hired through the tourist office. I usually prefer to explore cities independently, though in a place like Fes, a guide can be a good idea, as the medina, with over 10,000 small streets and alleys, can be a little tricky to navigate on your own. I doubt there even exists a proper map.
The previous evening, when we were walking in the Ville Nouvelle, Salim had approached us - very politely - and asked us where we were from and what we thought of Fes. He showed us his official tour guide card and offered to show us around the medina the following day. We were a little wary after our experiences in Tangier, so we said we'd think about it. He said he'd be sitting at the Cafe Renaissance, near the tourist office, the following morning.
We were still a little worried about being ripped off, but as we felt we needed a guide to properly explore the medina, we went along to the tourist office to hire someone for half a day. The man there asked us to wait a minute. When he returned, who was with him? Salim of course! He was a bit annoyed at us for not trusting him! He explained to us that the tourist office would not use him again until all the other guides had been given a tour. I imagine the tourist oiffice also got a commission, whereas he would avoided all this if we had gone straight to him. I blame our experiences in Tangier....
He did give a very good half day tour of the medina, though he spoke very quickly and it was sometimes difficult to take in all he said. The cost was 120 Dirham (about 12 Euro).
This small square in the heart of the Medina is quite a gem. Following down to the end of Talaa Seghira, turn sharp right down a covered lane down some steps, just before you end up on Talaa Kabira.
The square has a few tourist shops with the usual ceramics and other potential gifts. It's one of the nicest, well restored parts of the Medina although some people may feel that it's been slightly sanitised. One of the highlights of the square is the the Nejjarine Museum of wooden crafts that contains examples of all things wooden. The building has been completely renovated as well as the square. A gorgeously tiled wall fountain completes the picture.
To one side you'll find a place full of stalls selling metal seats used for weddings, in fine bright silver metalwork. Spend a few minutes looking outside and taking in the building.
This is also an excellent place to go to the loo! The toilets in the museum are the best I found in Morocco - 'that' smell was absent and even good toilet paper!!
Unfortunately, the short route through the dark alley to the square you may come across some hustlers who can be quite persistent, offering you all sorts of thing. Just throw them your usual 'No thanks' smile that you've been practicing all day and walk on. Also, ignore anyone who tells you the museum is closed, as one person did with me so that I would go and see his shop.
During our tour of the medina we visited a couple of traditional workshops where we got see and meet to some of the craftsmen at work. The first one we visited was in the corner of a funduq, somewhere in a back corner of the medina, a place I'd have difficulty finding again. A man and his two sons were busy at work creating small, colorful tiles for use in mosaics. They didn't mind us at all coming in to look around, though we didn't get to speak to them as we had no Arabic and they spoke no French or English.
The man gave us two of the small tiles, in the shapes of a star and a triangle, which, though probably worthless, are worth far more to me than any of the things we haggled for later on in our trip. It seemed strange that the boys had to work at such a young age, but this is something very common in Fes. Many skills are passed down from generation to generation.
We also visited a wood scribers shop, slightly more "up market" (if such a term can be applied to Fes?) than the mosaic place. It was very refreshing to be ignored by the men and his sons working there, something that rarely happened in some of the more touristy shops in the medina. They were far more interested in their work, than in trying to sell us anything.
Favorite thing: Tourism authority of Fes did something wonderful and put colored star signs in the streets. For example, blue star leads you between Bab Bjouleud and Bab R'Cif, while pink does something else and cyan does another thing :). But the main point is when you get lost, follow those signs and you are out of the labrynthe. Also, do not believe hustlers pointing your whereabouts on your map: They usually tend to get you lost even more so that you can't get out without their help. They do take foreigners for a fool.
Fondest memory: During our tour around the medina, we tried a few Moroccan food specialities from some of the small shops. Sfens (I think that's the spelling) is like a donut, though slightly more savoury, but just as unhealthy:) We also tried Rayib, a Moroccan type yogurt made from milk thickened with the hairy hearts of artechokes. It's nicer than it sounds!
Favorite thing: As we were walking along Talaa Seghir, one of the main streets of the medina, we got delayed behind a guy trying to carry a huge mattress on a small cart. The mattress kept sliding off, so every few metres he had to stop, lift it back on to the cart and reposition it. To make it more difficult he was going slightly uphill. After dropping it about 4 or 5 times, some tourists offered to help the poor guy but he refused, struggling on alone. Most of the locals seemed to be laughing at him. I hope he doesn't have to do this every day!
As everybody says, very hot in summer.
How to transform from Fahrenheit to Celsius? Deduct 32, divide by 9 and multiply by 5.
Example: 85 Fahrenheit, minus 32 = 53, divided by 9 = 5,89 by 5 = 29,4 Celsius.
Favorite thing: Medersas are located throughout each district in the medina. There are over 300 distics, thus there are 300 medersas as well as 300 bakeries, baths, wells, mosques, and other necessities. Each district has one of every necessity. Anyway, a medera is like a dormitory for students studying Islam. There's a well for drinking and cleaning, and then rooms for sleeping. The architecture is really nice inside.
There is a small Burea de change at Fes Airport when you arrive but the queue can get very long with people from the same flight.
Anywhere with a Western Union sign around Fes is a safe place to change your money and there is no commision charged.
Changing at a bank means you will have to show your passport. As we had no passport with us a credit card was also acceptable as a form of ID.
Favorite thing: If you go to Fez you should go to the "curtidores", here you can see how the workers clean the skin of the animals, tint them and leave it to dry at sun. After with the leathers they do shoes, bags, etc. You can find it inside the Zoco.
Favorite thing: Be sure to drink only bottled water that has the seal unbroken. The water is likely to give you stomach upsets. Also beware of being given drinks with ice cubes. Orange juice is also likely to be watered down and of course anything like salads and raw vegetables will have been washed in water. While food can be well cooked and ok, the plates maybe the problem when they are washed in the same water as everything else.
Favorite thing: There is no need to take extra precautions than you would normally in any other large city. There is an apparent police force around as well as those not in an identifying uniform especially in the Medina. Pickpockets will always be around, wherever you are so take care with your belongings.
Favorite thing: Winter can be cold and wet in Fez with January usually being the coldest month. During the summer months the temperatures can go to the other extreme and even reach the high 30’sC. A comfortable time to visit is during September to November and April to June.
Favorite thing: In April of 2008 the city celebrated its 1200th anniversary of the foundation of Fez. There was an abundance of entertainers spanning several cultures and ranges of music. On one of the old walls of Bab Boujloud square, huge photos were projected on a 160m long screen covering 12 centuries of the countries history.
Favorite thing: Fes was created in the year of 798 by a king Idris II. The city grew up thank to incomers from Kajruvan (after them name for the biggest mosque in Fes). Then many dynasties fought for Fes and soon the city became one of the most significant cities in Morocco. 1248 Merenid dynasty made Fes as a capital of their state. 13. and 14. century was the best time for Fes. It has a great place for business, because all the ways from north to south and from west to east lead throught Fes. Since that time the city was rebuilt many times and became one of four royal cities in Morocco. It has been also the cultural point of Morocco with the Kajruvan Mosque, famous University and souks in medina.